Sunday, May 06, 2001

Drive, He/She Said

As we start to scare away the last vestiges of winter and move into spring, there are certain unmistakable signs that the change is taking place. There are robins skittering around on the grass. The branches are full of buds. The months ahead have no "r" in them. And, most definitive of all, you start to see people with convertibles put their tops down.

For while it's been said that in spring a young man's fancy turns to thoughts of love, in truth it turns to driving for the young at heart of both genders. No more do you have to worry about black ice, or defrosters, or snow tires. As soon as the thermometer starts flirting with 60 and above, it's time to crank the windows down, find a country road, and burn some Arabian crude.

Even if a ragtop isn't in the equation, the season still brings out the AJ Foyt wannabes in the crowd. These are the folks who add washing and waxing to their Sunday morning ritual, who include cigarette lighter vacuum cleaners on their birthday wish lists, who recognize that Michelin means not just a restaurant rating but a tire. And while some are more mechanically inclined than others, all can differentiate a Lexus from an Infinity at 50 paces, and can tell you that the paint color on the new Volvo isn't beige, but rather Dessert Sand.

It's also the time to start dreaming of a new set of wheels. From brawny off-roaders to snappy sports cars, the auto shows and car magazines start showcasing the latest and greatest. Just as some people lust for a piece of chocolate cake or a bigger hard drive or a diamond necklace, for a certain segment of the populace the only rush that counts comes from a factory fresh vehicle with that new car smell.

So which car is the most coveted? Well, that depends on whom you talk to. For sure, the luxury foreign makes have their disciples, as do the high end SUV's. But it turns out that the kind of transport that turns you on has as much to do with sex as with anything else. More specifically, not if the vehicle is large enough in which to have it, but which gender you are.

Or at least that's according to Tom and Ray Magliozzi, better known as Click and Clack. Their show on National Public Radio, "Car Talk," plays on 450 stations, while their newspaper column appears in 300 papers. They took a survey of their fans, asking for the most popular "chick" cars and the most popular "guy" cars. And the lists differ substantially.

Why look at it this way? Well, to quote the brothers, "Ever know a guy who would deign to be seen behind the wheel of a periwinkle convertible Volkswagen Cabriolet? Or seen a woman driving a souped-up Ford Mustang with blue neon lights on the underbody? We didn't think so. It seems to us that some cars are simply meant to be driven by men...and others by women. " A sexist viewpoint? Perhaps. But I'll bet you a Dodge Viper with a 480 cube dual barreled carb that there's an element of truth in it.

What characteristics help to define the differences? While not ironclad, a sampling of participant responses gives some indication. For starters, some felt that any car painted in pink, light blue, or champagne is most definitely a chick car. Likewise, any "sports car" that is available only with a four-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission is a chick vehicle, as well as any car where there's no chance of not making it to your destination. That means that all British cars are guy cars, by definition.

On the flip side, a guy car can be any vehicle with a name suggesting something projectile-like, such as the Probe, the Ram or the Lancer. Similarly, it's probably a guy thing if the engine size is still given in cubic inches, if there was a movie or TV show built entirely around it ("Herbie the Love Bug" was a notable exception) or the hood is more than five feet long.

And the results and the reasoning behind the selections from the voters? First the "chick" cars. Checking in at number five is the Dodge Neon: "Neons are Barbie cars: little and cute and rounded in the hips. Even in black, they are feminine and adorable, only just a bit tougher, like Tattoo Barbie." Next on the hit parade is the VW Jetta: "Anything by Volkswagen is a chick car. VW realized this years ago and joined forces with another company to sell guy cars--they called that company Porsche." In the show position is the Mazda Miata: "I discovered this phenomenon when I got a Miata. 'Girlie car.' That's all I heard." Appearing at number two is the VW Cabriolet: "All teen-age girls classify them as cute. 'Nuff said." And the number one chick car according to the poll? The VW Beetle: "I know of no other automobile with a flower vase as standard equipment."

On the "guy" side rounding out the top five is the Dodge Viper. "Along with Burt Reynolds' Trans Am from 'Smokey and the Bandit,' it was a star in its own right." Right behind that was the Ford F-150 Pickup: "Any car with numbers or letters for a name is a guy car." Number three is the Chevy Camaro: "It has twice the horsepower needed, which is important to show how manly you really are." The runner up is the Chevy Corvette: "I believe the main aspect that determines the male/female state of a car is based on the hood-to-cab-length ratio." And the number one guy car according to the poll? The Ford Mustang: "It features a back seat too small for your mother-in-law, and is incapable of holding a baby seat."

Of course, you can drive what you wish. And if it gets you from here to there, that may be all that matters to you. But there's a reason they advertise pickups during football games. You figure it out.


Marc Wollin of Bedford drives a Dodge Durango. And no, he's not insecure, he just likes the room. His other rationalizations can be found regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inqurier.